Sarah Hickls: "I currently spend two to four hours a day, seven days per week exercising."
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My name is Sarah Hicks and I'm addicted to exercise. I currently spend two to four hours a day, seven days per week exercising.
It started because of my anorexia, which I was first diagnosed with two years ago when I was 22. Anorexia will get you in any way it can. I know that it isn’t healthy, but I can’t stop exercising because of the fear of getting fat - it’s all consuming. Stopping exercising hurts far more mentally than my aching bones and tired muscles.
"I know that it isn’t healthy, but I can’t stop exercising because of the fear of getting fat."
5am every morning my alarm rings in my ears, I reach for my phone, eyes roll back into my head knowing what's to come. I practically crawl out of bed, barely awake. I reach for my running clothes which are conveniently placed under the pillow next to me. I change and then slip my socks and runners on. I cringe just thinking about going for a run. It makes me feel physically sick to the stomach. I very quietly exit my bedroom, trying not to wake anyone. I chug down a strong black coffee, grab my head phones and creep out the door. In no time at all I’m on the path outside my house, choosing a song that I hope will distract me. I close my eyes, take a deep breath and start my 5am jog.
After running 2km I'm tired, I'm angry, I'm cold and definitely wishing I was back in bed. I constantly feel like stopping, and giving up, but I can't. The voices in my head remind me "You're fat. You're lazy, and useless. Push harder and keep going you pathetic excuse for a human.” So I push. By 6am my knees are aching, my heart is racing and I don't know if I physically can go on. But my thoughts are screaming at me louder now and all I can think about is that if I stop I've failed and if I fail - that's the end of the world. Sound dramatic? To someone with an addiction to exercise, failing to feed that addiction is the end of the world.
One foot after the other, pounding the pavement, with every stride my body screams at me to stop. I ignore it. To me in this moment exercising is much more important than my health of course.
As the sun begins to rise, other runners, walkers, elderly people watering their plants smile and nod their head at me as if to say “well done girl, keep up that hard work!" I smile back, my smile feels so fake and I wonder if they know I'm not enjoying myself. To them I’m an inspiration, a motivation - why the hell are you complaining? I ask myself. I'm angry at myself now, and make myself run a little harder.
I gradually start to feel a little hungry, but the voice in my head yells at me once again "you selfish girl, I'm trying to make you skinny and all you can think about is food!"
Guilt kicks in now, my legs are shaky, my chest is pounding, the pain is almost unbearable, every bone, muscle and joint is begging me to stop, yet I feel like I'm somehow winning. I'm obeying the voices and it feels good. I feel as though I can physically feel fat dripping off me. The pain no longer matters. No pain no gain right?
This hit of happiness has come from knowing I'm nearly done. That is until lunch time comes around and I have to burn off some more calories. And I'll do it all over again.
I check my phone. 7am. I breathe a quite obvious sigh out loud and slow my run to a fast walk. I take in my surroundings; a tear falls from my eye, the feeling of being so satisfied yet so used and beaten is heartbreaking. The voice in my head doesn’t quieten and tells me to “stop being a sook and harden up, because it's all happening again tomorrow.”
This is my life and right now. I feel as those I'm not living, I'm just surviving, waiting for the day my body wins against the disease.
Sarah’s story first aired on SBS News and Current Affairs program The Feed. The Feed screens at 7.30pm Monday –Thursday on SBS 2.
For more information about how to help a friend or family member with disordered exercise or eating issues, check out The Butterfly Foundation or the National Eating Disorders Assocation’s parental toolkit.